The Eagles will host the Houston Texans on Sunday (1 p.m., CBS3), hoping to extend their late postseason push. Our four beat writers predict the outcome:
I have two diametrically opposed thoughts about this weekend’s Eagles game.
One is that the Eagles are getting some key pieces back, becoming the team they should have been all along, with three wins and a really unlucky overtime loss in their last four games. A subset of that thought is that the Texans, despite their gaudy 10-4 record, haven’t really beaten anybody of note. (They defeated Indianapolis and Dallas in September, before those teams turned things around. Then they lost to the Colts in the rematch.)
But, I have this other thought. The Eagles are like last-minute Christmas shoppers, depending on stores to be open and to not have sold all the neat stuff.
This season was squandered a long time ago. A blown 17-3, third-quarter lead at Tennessee. A loss to the freaking Bucs. A blown 17-0, fourth-quarter lead at home against Carolina. Home loss to Minnesota. Do what you should have done in a couple of those games, you’re in the playoffs. Do what you should have done in all those games, you’re up there with last season’s team, vying for top seeding.
In sports, most of the time, you get what you deserve, and, on balance, the Eagles don’t deserve to be in the playoffs.
Does that mean they won’t beat the Texans? They’re going to need to maintain Sunday’s offensive balance against a team that allows just 3.6 yards per carry, the NFL’s stingiest figure. But their solid pass rush could feast on a bad Houston offensive line, which will be playing on the road.
Lots of people will tell you the Texans have a much better defense than the Eagles. Actually, playing an easier schedule, they are giving up 20.1 points per game. The Eagles are giving up 22.7. Meh.
Maybe, if the Eagles can win this, they will change my mind about being deserving.
Prediction: Eagles 19, Texans 16
Just like last season, the Eagles have decided to play the disrespect card. They’ve traded their dog masks for ski masks, but the idea is the same.
Nobody thinks we can pull this off. Nobody but us.
And maybe they can. Their offense has scored 106 points in the last four games. Their defense finally is forcing turnovers: eight in the last five games.
They are getting some people healthy, even if one of them isn’t Carson Wentz.
The Texans hardly are unbeatable, even though they’ve been pretty close to that for the last three months. Their offensive line isn’t very good, giving up a league-high 52 sacks. So, it could be a good day for Fletcher Cox and the defensive line.
The Texans’ top running back, Lamar Miller, suffered an ankle injury Saturday and might not play, or at least probably won’t be anywhere close to 100 percent.
But the Eagles won’t be able to run the ball, either, against the league’s top run defense (just 3.6 yards per carry). And if they become one-dimensional, Nick Foles might spend too much of the day staring up at J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney.
I thought about picking them to win. But that would’ve given Eagles fans heartburn.
Prediction: Texans 19, Eagles 17
The Eagles saved their season in Los Angeles, but there’s still work to be done. There are a few scenarios in which losing to the Texans doesn’t eliminate their playoff chances. But, for all intents and purposes, Sunday is another must-win.
The Eagles have won back-to-back games only once this season. The good news: It came just a few weeks ago. The bad news: They only had to beat the lowly Giants and Redskins. Houston isn’t some powerhouse, though. The Texans won nine straight after losing their first three, but there wasn’t an overly impressive victory in the bunch. They’ve won their last five on the road, the last up in North Jersey against the Jets.
Houston’s overall numbers in terms of yards gained (14th in the NFL) and allowed (14th) aren’t particularly impressive. They’re not so great situationally on third down (20th on both offense and defense) and in the red zone (tied for 26th on offense and 30th on defense). But, they are plus-10 in turnover differential, which helps explain their rankings in points scored (11th) and points allowed (5th).
The Texans are led on offense by running back Lamar Miller (4.8 average per rush) and receiver DeAndre Hopkins (94 catches for 1,321 yards and 11 touchdowns). Jim Schwartz should shade a safety Hopkins' way whenever he can. Deshaun Watson has rebounded from a slow start, but he’s gotten sacked more than any other quarterback this season. If the Eagles are to win, they’ll need Fletcher Cox, Michael Bennett, and company to pressure Watson.
On defense, J.J. Watt (14 1/2 sacks) is back and creating his usual havoc up front. Jadeveon Clowney (8 sacks) is the “Jack” linebacker and is a handful. Nick Foles will likely need to get the ball out quickly to offset the rush. He averaged just 2.1 seconds before release in Sunday’s win over the Rams.
Another relatively simple game plan could be enough. Or not.
Prediction: Texans 27, Eagles 23
It caught my attention that the Eagles are favored against a 10-4 team. There’s much to like about the Texans — they have blue-chip players at multiple spots — and they’ve won 10 of the last 11 games. The Eagles have won three of the last four and are coming off a big win in Los Angeles, but this has been a flawed team throughout the season. It’s going to be tough to knock off another playoff team.
I can’t help but be impressed, however, by what I saw last weekend, when I thought the Eagles were ready to pack it up for the season. My guess is they remain inspired on Sunday, with a reenergized fan base that knows a wild-card spot is possible. That hasn’t always boded well this season — the fans have had a better season than the players — but I’d expect Nick Foles and Co. to move the ball through the air against a team ranked No. 26 against the pass.
The key will be in the red zone, where the Texans have allowed a touchdown on 73.7 percent of opponents’ visits. The Eagles also must force turnovers, as they have in recent weeks — five of their nine interceptions have come in the last four games, along with three of their six fumble recoveries — and pressure Deshaun Watson, who has been sacked 52 times this season.
It’s hard to pick against a roster that has Watson, DeAndre Hopkins, J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Tyrann Mathieu, although the same could be said about the Rams roster. I wouldn’t feel comfortable betting on the Eagles, but I’ll go with the oddsmakers for the winner, and the Eagles give you at least one more week of relevant football.